But You Did Not Persuade Me

One of my favorite movie scenes in recent memory is from The Last King of Scotland, a dramatized "biography" of the megalomaniac dictator Idi Amin, as seen through the eyes of a fictional Scottish personal physician.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/07/but-you-did-not-persuade-me.html

Excellent post! Persuasion, and communication in general, is underrated in the tech industry.

Here’s a working link to Letter from a Birmingham Jail: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf

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A good book on the topic is How to Win Friends and Influence People. I learn something new every time I read it.

Another great article on this idea is ‘Controlling your boss for fun and profit’ by I. M. Wright.

“Grow up, you weenies. Based on your pathetic excuses for inaction, nothing would ever get done. Don’t you think your bosses say the same thing regarding their bosses? If you don’t make desired change happen, it doesn’t happen. Period. The difference between you and someone powerful is not your level of control; it’s your willingness to act.”


But if my end goal is to show people that data and fact IS more important than persuasion, should it not be our first inclination? Would I not be a liar, no worse, a hypocrite whose utterances spit upon his own beliefs if I were to rely primarily on a tongue that I don’t believe has as much merit as my own?

I mean, I am not so blind as to miss that there is need for some persuasion when data shows no discernible path. Do you not think of persuasion and data as two extremes?

I am a painted fence, as I’ve been persuaded things were much better than they were (unhealthy friendships & crap situations), only to realize the bitter truth later… And under this paint, I myself am terrible persuader. So maybe… maybe I am just a hater. Yet I still I think it wrong that persuasion can win out over truth; I don’t believe persuasion should have such power to effectively mute the truth, or deafen those within earshot.

“If you ever want to effect change, in your work, in your life, you must learn to persuade others.”

Meh. I’m unconvinced of that. :slight_smile:

I think this is one of the most important skills anyone can possess, programmer or not. I’m 34 and I’m only just beginning to understand why I have gone through my life as bit of a Cassandra. I’ve watched, frustrated, as I’ve told those sitting next to me about the mistakes being made all around me, about product ideas that then come successfully to market years later, and I have often suspected that the problem is actually me.

I came from a working class British family so I’ve been brought up dis-empowered. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he talks about a study between working and middle class parenting and concludes simply that middle-class parents endow their offspring with the feeling of entitlement, of power and equality and the belief that they are masters of their own universe.

While in a book store on holiday, I randomly bought a book that I’d normally never look at. It was cheap and appeared to be an easy, friendly read. It’s called “Life’s a Pitch” and although it deals with putting together a compelling sales pitch/presentation, it also talks about how the same principles apply across your entire life.


I’m very glad you thought to write about this, Jeff, it’s a remarkably important trait, arguably more so than technical skills. If you have a great idea and can persuade someone to lend you money, then you can persuade great technical people to build it, then persuade people to buy it.

If I could buy just a single personality trait, the power of persuasion would be it.

I love your writing, and agree with the content of your blog post…but the video definitely does not fall under fair use.


In order for your video citation to be fair use, you must be actually commenting on the piece itself or something it represents. You simply cite a movie scene to make your point, and are even doing this on a blog from which you derive at least indirect monetary value. The fact that you think it’s fair use does not make it fair.

@Peter J. Maybe I’m not seeing it, but I thought he WAS commenting on it. In fact, at least one entire paragraph in his blog was a comment on that video clip. How did he not comment on it?

I hope “dogfooding” made it into the list of programming jargon in your previous post.

Leading by example is probably one of the best techniques to earn more respect and have your team motivated.

The vive.ly link is probably causing a lot of deley on your blog…I am seeing this from past few days. not sure if anyone else has noticed this slowness yet. It takes almost 30 seconds to open each page on your blog which used to be fraction of seconds in past.

That clip is one of my favorite movie moments of all time. The man is truly terrifying.

You think there’s no anger in Letter from a Birmingham Jail? Really? I think there’s a barely contained (and to be clear, fully justified) rage. It’s civil, yes. And it’s lacking in invective, yes. But Martin Luther King Jr wasn’t some smiling Buddha. He just had the rare gift of channelling his anger completely into trying to make the world better.

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.” That whole glorious paragraph wasn’t written without anger behind the pen.

“The ultimate management challenge is responsibility without authority.”

I was told that within the first year or so of my career, i.e. early 20’s, and it’s stuck in my head 30 years later (and quoted many times along the way!). It turned out to be somewhat prophetic for me as I kept ending up in jobs where my ability to accomplish objectives often required contributions from people over whom I had no authority.

I like to think I did pretty well at that… My approach was pretty simple – earn the respect needed overall as an individual as well as specific to the challenge. If what you’re doing is logical and is consistent with the goals of the organization – i.e. “yup, that’s a great idea” – it’s much easier to be persuasive.

“Persuasion” is a neutral term – the simple act of getting others to agree with you. It’s the intention of persuasion where things get ugly — “manipulation” is a not-so-neutral term and note that some will argue that some manipulation is in the best interests of others, but I’m kind of slow to drink kool-aid.

This is essential when working with management figures. Those people got to where they are by getting their way. So, in dealing with them, you have to figure out how to get your way. More often than not, this results in a resolution that satisfies both parties involved, which is not an way thing to do.

“You Did Not Persuade Me” is required viewing for my class on Completed Staff Work at The Catholic University of America.


I found this article very interesting to read and analyze, as well as relate back to CSW. In my opinion, I feel that Nicholas is more at fault for not selling the idea and not being persuasive enough than Idi Amin is for not listening. Persuasion is a key component to effecting change in both work and life. So often in the workplace, especially in the tech industry, persuasion is swept under the rug. The ability to persuade others is such an important trait to have in order to influence others and make effective change. As mentioned in the article, one can go about persuasion through leading by example. This idea is particularly interesting to relate to what we have learned in our Completed Staff Work class. In any organization, those in charge must be role models to their subordinates, and encourage everybody to make changes within the organization. This can be done through persuasion. The quote that resonated with me from this article was “Nobody ever changed anything by remaining quiet, idly standing by, or blending into the faceless, voiceless masses. If you ever want to effect change, in your work, in your life, you must learn to persuade others.” Great article!


I’ve been reading many of these old topics and so many are so true today. And some of them actually make me laugh out loud with some of things people saying (jokingly).

The old advice that has never lost its value, “lead by example” has been around for thousands of years and will be for thousands more.


In the movie scene, the advisor didn’t persuade the dictator even though he told him to do the right move. The power of persuasion is important in anything that requires other humans. It can even be useful with friends to do the activities you want to do. Marketing is one way of persuasion like the example of the electrical engineer or a company trying to get them to buy their product. The VP of Engineering at Etsy had to persuade his staff in blogs to do his ideas, if that fails then he resorts to needing to lobby for it, but at the end of the day it requires persuasion to get things done with humans. The VP believes that everyone ideas make the vision of the company. The best persuasion is to use statistics but cannot be used in every case. The only way to persuade someone is through talking and not being quiet. A good way to persuade people is by leading by example, because if they see your willing to do something there is no reason, they cannot do it for themselves. I remember being in my engineering class in high school when I would come up with good ideas that did not get used because I was not persuasive enough. The other idea ended up being worse, but because he was more persuasive got his idea through.